Ice hockey: IIHF 'optimistic' that NHL stars will return to Winter Olympics

The Beijing Olympics are the second straight Winter Games without NHL players. PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING (AFP) - Ice hockey's governing body said on Thursday (Feb 17) that it will work with the National Hockey League (NHL) to avoid another "frustrating" absence of NHL stars from future Winter Olympics.

The Beijing Olympics are the second straight Winter Games without NHL players, depriving ice hockey fans from seeing the world's best go head-to-head.

The no-show - this time because of Covid-19 - has particularly affected the United States and Canada teams, both of whom were knocked out in the men's quarter-finals on Wednesday.

"We really want to start discussions... to try to push this frustration away from both sides," Luc Tardif, president of the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF), said in Beijing.

He said the IIHF and NHL would soon discuss prospects for coordinating their schedules to allow the league to pause its season for the Olympics.

The NHL said in December that it would bar its players from travelling to Beijing, citing health concerns related to the pandemic. NHL players also missed Pyeongchang 2018.

The NHL season clashes with the Winter Games and the league also is believed to be concerned about injuries at the Olympics.

The NHL absence is "frustrating for the fans, for the players, that's why I am optimistic for the next one", Tardif said.

He also said he was pleased by the performance of China in ice hockey in Beijing, after the IIHF nearly barred the Chinese men from the Games over poor play, despite having an automatic berth as host nation.

The Chinese team - half of whom were Canadian and US players - were eventually allowed to compete.

They were eliminated after losing all four games. The women, however, won two of their four matches.

"For the men, everybody was worried," Tardif said.

"I think we are happy because they (both teams) did well. But we are going to have to build a real Chinese organisation. (That) is going to take time."

He said the IIHF would "push" to develop the sport in China, which could include a professional league spanning China, South Korea and Japan.

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